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2020 MLS season preview

Saturday 29th February 2020
Seattle took Major League Soccer back from the newborn franchises in 2019. Can the grownups keep the MLS Cup?
Seattle took Major League Soccer back from the newborn franchises in 2019. Can the grownups keep the MLS Cup?

As European football competitions enter their final phase, things are just getting started across the pond. The MLS is set to begin its 24th season and there’s plenty of intrigue to draw in new fans. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Newbie, newbie, newbie, newbies

The thing that stands out most about the new season is the new kids in town, namely Inter Miami and Nashville SC. While Inter Miami, fronted by David Beckham, have been well documented in the past years, Nashville are a little more of an unknown quantity. Presumably, the boys from Music City will run out to a classic country banger (Chicken in Black anyone?) how they perform on the field is another matter.

Both clubs have made some quality signings, aided by the league’s expansion drafts. They’ve a range of experienced MLS pros to call upon and both should be expected to trouble the play-offs. Perhaps more importantly, they open up new portions of the country to the beautiful game. Fan engagement in both areas will be strong. So it should be. These markets are chosen for a reason, you know.

Who needs swede when you can have a little pea?

It’s not just clubs giving the league a new flavour. High profile players are arriving in the league too. Not the least of them is Javier Hernandez AKA Chicharito. The Mexican striker’s arrival at LA Galaxy has caused raptures of delight among certain sections of the Galaxy fan base, the former Manchester United man the perfect replacement for dearly departed Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Across the league, we’ve seen more MLS big beasts departing in the form of Rooney and Schweinsteiger, and there’s been a surprising lack of household names arriving in the league to replace them. But keep an eye on Seattle new boy Joao Paulo and Adam Buska at New England Revolution. You may not have heard of them, but these are the kinds of players who will give the league that bit of extra quality.  

Keeping us in suspense

Another notable feature of this season is the absence of two of its key goalkeepers. Two legendary custodians, Nick Rimando, and Tim Howard have retired. There’s no doubt the two were cornerstones of their respective teams. Both were 40 years old and distinguished by separate stats; Howard with his 121 USA national caps and Rimando with a record-setting 514 MLS appearances.

But the USA is known for producing great goalies, and more will likely roll off the conveyor belt. Watch out for David Ochoa and Abraham Rodriguez, two young keepers who may need to wait their turn for game time but have the potential to reach heady heights.

Tough at the top

After their record setting season last year, all eyes will be on LAFC. Bob Bradley’s side have strengthened over the summer, bolstering their already stacked squad with likes of Dutch goalie Kenneth Vermeer and former New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.

They’ll face still competition from the likes of DC United, who ended their last campaign with five consecutive clean sheets in the regular season, and Seattle Sounders. Last season’s finalists Toronto FC have endured a miserable close season, losing several key players but failing to bulk up, with only one signing from outside the club.

Soldiering on

Chicago Fire have undergone a change or two. The Illinois club has changed their name (they’re now a football club instead of a soccer club), logo and most importantly, their home. Abandoning their purpose-built venue, the abominably named Seatgeek Stadium, to an unloved retirement out in the suburbs in favour of a move back to city limits, Fire will now share Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.

It’s an interesting move. For most newly formed MLS teams, moving out of an NFL stadium and into a home of their own is a key issue. Chicago are the first team to do things the other way around. If the move helps them boost attendances and turn around their lacklustre form, it could prove a solid idea.

You gotta get up, stand up

While Chicago are rolling back the years, returning to share with an NFL team, others are taking a very different route. DC United, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and Inter Miami have all added safe-standing sections to their stadiums, joining Orlando City, San Jose Earthquakes, LAFC and Minnesota in offering fans the chance to stand. It’s a move that shows the MLS is moving in interesting ways, off-field as well as on. The fact than an American sports league could adopt the uniquely European concept of standing at games is a pleasant surprise and speaks to the way the league is committed to engaging and expanding its fanbase, even if some have a marked Stateside twist; cupholders for each place.

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Jonny Keen

Glasgow based writer keen (geddit?) on the cultural elements of football. More interested in the fortunes of Cefn Druids or HJK Helsinki than the latest goings on at Manchester City or Real Madrid.

Once played 10 minutes of a game in the 17th tier of English football. He thinks the best food in football is to be found at Forest Green Rovers and Rayo Vallecano are the only club in Madrid. 

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